Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Saturday, April 22, 2006

An open letter to the cinema operators of New Zealand

Dear movie theatre operators,

I really like going to movies in your theatres. You excel - I'm not kidding around here - at providing a high-quality experience tailored to a judicious public. I enjoy wholeheartedly and honestly your seating plans, the attentiveness and friendliness of your ticketing staff (seriously, I've had so many lovely exchanges while buying tickets, and walked away feeling really happy that these people seem to genuinely care about me getting a good seat and enjoying my movie), heavens, I even love the - let's be honest here - criminally overpriced items available to captive audiences in your snack bars. If I haven't bought a $4 icecream to eat when the trailers start, my moviegoing experience is incomplete.
I want to reassure you that I'm not just speaking in general. I mean to say that I specifically love the cinemagoing experience provided by your cinemas AS OPPOSED TO the experience of renting or buying or - heaven forbid - downloading a movie and watching it at home. If I want to see a movie, it is very rare that I will, in the parlance, "wait for video". I can think of few ways that my film-watching experience could be enhanced by viewing a movie in my house - comfortable and well-stocked though it is - than it would be if I chose to enjoy your hospitality, heartfelt as I believe it to be even in the face of rising ticket prices. Furthermore, I would like to assure you that I could download movies if I wanted to, but that I never have and I do not intend to do so, either for myself or others. Why, just last week I busted a film-piracy ring operating out of the place of work in which I am currently employed. Those unscrupulous gentlemens' victims were not yourselves so much as they were the fine people of Video Ezy, but, y'know, knockon effect and all that.
In short, then, I love the experience you provide and make a point of availing myself of it whenever I feel the urge, and would like to continue to do so.

However.

This Letting People Talk In Movies thing has just got to stop. It's really not funny any more, guys. Wankers on cellphones. Idiots telling each other what's happening. Slack-jawed mouth-breathers assuming that just because their experience of the movie is not satisfactory, that NOBODY ELSE IN THE THEATRE will be liking the movie enough to want to WATCH THE GODDAMN THING IN SILENCE. This is inconsiderate, it's rude by anyone's standards, it's ruining the experience you provide, and I have no doubt whatsoever that it's driving people in their droves out of your establishments and into the video stores and the comfort of their homes.
I'm not going to bore you with examples. However, suffice to say that while I'm not some sort of highfalutin' hoity-toity type, that I have had some of the most profound, thought-provoking, quietly intense movies of recent years damn-near close to ruined for me by the morons in the row behind me. What's the incentive for me to go to a movie at your movie-house, if I know that, seemingly regardless of the picture's popularity, I won't get to actually watch it without listening to the play-by-play from Chumpy McWhiterson in the next seat? (The only specific example I WILL give is to say that after the chat-happy crowd ruining the rather breathtaking quiet moments of Closer, I will never be visiting Christchurch's Regent On Worcester again. It's all very well to display the world's most pretentious minute of assemblage to proclaim your love for quality movies, but if your service is of this level, I'm just not buying it).

And to be honest, I kind of get the feeling you don't care. I feel for all the world as if you folks are of the mind that either:
(1) The only way to lure people back from their living rooms and into the theatres is to allow them to behave as they would in their living rooms; or
(2) You don't actually have all that much regard for your product; as long as you can boast high-quality delivery systems with surround-sound and comfy chairs and the rest, you don't really care for movies themselves all that much, and, given the opportunity, YOU TOO WOULD TALK ALL THE WAY THROUGH A MOVIE. I don't want to believe this, but shit, guys. You don't even bother to display a card at the start of the movie tentatively suggesting that patrons might like to consider shutting the fuck up for the duration of the following picture. (It doesn't have to be a negative thing: these titles have all the scope in the world to be fun and entertaining for your audiences. You could even tie this in with a suggestion that, post-picture, your coffee bar provides an excellent environment for talking about the movie to one's heart's content).

I direct your attention, lest you think I am some sort of solitary crazy spreading dangerous ideas that are counter to your brand philosophy, to such pieces as this, this and this. Find here many many people who do not like it when folk talk in the movies. Now, bearing in mind that we're all people who like movies, we're not WANTING to squander the wonderful experience you make available to us and stay at home to watch our movies. But it's getting to the point where people who actually like watching movies have little choice in the matter.

I've been told - by international sources, never anyone local - that I have at my disposal the option to fetch an usher when my fellow patrons' talking becomes intolerable and my own polite "shushing" has not worked (which it invariably does not). I don't want to miss scenes I paid to see just so someone else can be made aware of the basic social niceties their mothers should have taught them; between you and me, I can't help suspecting that people who talk during movies are orphans or the children of socially unschooled pig-people. I know of a chain of cinemas who have ushers who will regularly walk through the cinema using any force necessary to dissuade patrons from putting their feet on the seats - but have never, in my experience, been seen to silence a talking patron. This is not a good look, particularly when said chain is well on the way to quashing its competition underfoot, which is a sad thing indeed as I really like the competition.

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to respond to this friendly suggestion from a (mostly) happy customer.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

[Letter] For [Pun]

V For Vendetta induced a fair amount of walkouts on its opening week in the States. Not as many as, say, Irreversible, but the comparison is valid: just as Irreversible begins by encoding nausea-inducing extra-diegetic sound onto the first reel, so V For Vendetta opens by encoding into the background expository monologue the information that years of war and biological weaponry have turned America from the world's greatest superpower to its biggest leper colony. Apart from explaining to international audiences why we're watching a blockbuster made by Warners but containing nary an American accent nor location, it does little; but, by the sounds of it, the opening gambit serves its purpose as a piece of provocation.
It's on this level that V is most successful. As the blockbuster-with-brains political/philosophical Manifesto it wants to be, it's wooly and self-contradictory; as a Matrix-level action movie, it's a little too concerned with being a Matrix 2-level political/philosophical Manifesto. But as a big, brash, unsubtle bid for the title of Least Subversive Piece Of Subversion Ever, it's great fun.
Alan Moore, of course, has been pretty darn vocal in expressing his discontent that his allegory about Anarchy vs Fascism has been transplanted into a condemnation of Rightist politics from an unapologetically Leftist perspective. I can't help feeling there are worse things that could happen to your story - The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for instance.
Sure, sure, I'm a big commie faggot pinko Jew, but while it's hard to call V an underground counterculture piece - neither Warners nor Joel Silver are known for their presence on the indie circuit - it's hard not to get caught up in V when it's on-message. Moore does have a point, though, in that the sermonizing gets to a point where the narrative has to pause for Steven Fry to remind us that even non-Muslims can admire the Koran's poetry, or for William Hurt to scream and yell so he can be sure that audiences, seeing a demagogue in a combover named Adam Sutler, don't miss the inference.
The trickest aspect of making a V For Vendetta movie, and the one in which the picture gets the most hamstrung, is that quiet underground cult comic books like very much to be about shades of grey, whereas Big Loud Action Movies like things clearcut and binary. And the Wachowskis, God bless 'em, have tried to make a movie which clearly and loudly and explosively encourages audiences not to think in polar absolutes.
So you have an eponymous protagonist who fights for good, but whose politics are so hinky you'd be hard-pressed to call him a hero; nemeses in the service of a corrupt fascist dictatorship, but a narrative that tries to quietly point out that Anarchy is also a somewhat embarrassingly unrealistic option. These are factors that work in the narrative's favour in the comic book, but in the movie, where so many things are reduced to simplicities, it makes the ambiguities confusing and uncertain.
This is most worrying in the climax, in a scene stripped straight from The Matrix, where a batch of Government grunts are dispatched brutally and remorselessly; but whereas The Matrix's equivalent sequence was preceded by a reminder that, in that movie's narrative, the forces of evil were inhuman tools of oppression, V For Vendetta immediately follows this scene with one in which the humanity of the Government soldiers becomes a point for celebration. That scene in The Matrix was always worrisome, but in the context of V For Vendetta, it's doubly unsettling.
And it might work if V the movie weren't so intent on portraying V the character as heroic. While the movie does great stuff positioning him as the unstoppable force of Anarchy to William Hurt's immovable Fascist object, it neglects the necessary nuances in which we're reminded that, actually, Anarchy is also a fairly hinky pipe-dream. His parting words to Evey still paraphrase Aliastar Crowley's most-repeated proclamation, but no longer does she reply by pointing out that that's a load of old tosh anyway. (Moore, elsewhere, makes clear just how seriously he takes that particular branch of philosophy; the Wachowskis, though obviously big Moore fans, don't follow through).
For a movie that wants so much to be all about big notions and messages, V works best when it's dealing on an individual level with things that don't need a big garbled monologue to be conveyed. The film's strongest sequence is one bereft of sledgehammer allegory or power-in-numbers pontificating, and it almost carries the narrative through the dodgy terrain that follows. Almost.